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City Council Meeting - September 28

Sidewalk dining to be tried again
Marc Knapp who covers City Council

In a near unanimous vote, City Council at the public hearing last night, agreed to give sidewalk dining another chance. However this time, the rules and regulations will be better defined and better policed. Councilmember Fishburne cast the only vote against the new proposal. He felt that the ordinance gave an unfair advantage to cafe and restaurant owners who have the fortune to be sited next to sidewalks that met the minimum width requirements. Those that operated along narrow sidewalks were obviously unable to take advantage of the new ordinance.

Under the proposed regulations and which will need to go through further readings before adopted, restaurants will be able to utilize part of the sidewalk fronting their properties for outside dining. They will be required to pay a rental of $9 a sq foot a year for the part of the sidewalk utilized. The sidewalk must have a width of at least 10 feet and only 5 feet could be utilized for dining. However, the minimum width rose to 15 feet if there was a traffic lane on the road on which the property fronted. In this case 10 feet had to be left for pedestrian traffic. The City pointed out that this ordinance related to the whole of the City but was of most interest to those restaurants established on the Peninsula. It pointed out that many sidewalks were too narrow for restaurants to take advantage of the new regulations. But it noted that parts of Meeting, Calhoun, East Bay, King and Broad Streets had sidewalks large enough to allow outside dining.

The ordnance would allow outside dining from 7.30 am to 11 pm. All tables and chairs would need to be taken off the street and stored inside after the hours of operation.

Apart for Mr Fishburne, nobody opposed to the new ordinance. Representatives of Fish and Basils, two restaurants on Upper King Street applauded the new regulations. The representative of Fish said it should do much to help revitalize upper King Street and noted that Fish would be unable to benefit from the ordinance.

Councilmember George noted that the $9 a year fee may not be enough to cover the cost of policing the new ordinance. He noted that the new ordinance could boost the profitability of some restaurants. There was no increase in overhead and in some cases a considerable increase in capacity to provide service. There was no reason why the cost of enforcement shouldn't be fully borne by the restaurants, particularly as it seems they would be able to pay for it.

Your correspondent noted that the 5ft preserved for pedestrian traffic may not be enough and that considerable congestion could occur in some regions of the city where there was heavy foot traffic. This would be particularly amplified in the area around the College.

However, as the Mayor and others pointed out, the ordinance can be easily amended. It will not lead to the construction of anything that is permanent. So changes can easily be made.

This is the second time that outside dining has been introduced to the City. The arlier ordinance had been repealed when it was abused by certain restaurants particularly some of those on Meeting Street between Market and Hasell Streets. This time round, the Mayor indicated that the regulations would be drawn much tighter and more strictly enforced and that problems should be more easily soluble.

Sales tax battle about to be waged
There was much more on the Council agenda last night but nothing of general interest. However, in reference to some zoning issues, reference was made to the proposed sales tax and what it could do to restore and build the infrastructure - roads and drainage - particularly in the City. There were also pleas for more road signals and traffic lights.

We doubt that there will be much action in relation to these matters until after the sales tax referendum. We are cynical enough to believe that traffic congestion could be eased substantially in many roads by the introduction of traffic lights or the better timing of those in existence. But the more traffic congestion there is now, the better the chance of the sales tax being passed as much of the money to be raised is earmarked for road and infrastructure.

Councilmembers were given some "cheat sheets" last night to be able to speak in favor of the referendum.